Review: The Psychology of Zelda is an informative look into world of Zelda
by on May 29, 2019

It is hard to deny the amount of depth found within the stories of The Legend of Zelda games. Each tale has been expertly crafted, and the result of this care for narrative has been a beloved franchise that draws players into each amazing fantasy.

It should be of no surprise that the widespread love for the series is the result of how the games have affected people at a deep and often psychological level. Zelda fans are passionate about the series. It’s something they connect to in many personal ways. This relationship between games and players is worth studying, which is why the book The Psychology of Zelda, edited by Anthony M. Bean, Ph.D., serves an important purpose for the series.

The Psychology of Zelda is an anthology of essays written by a number of psychology and health professionals. Each essay delves into a particular psychology-focused topic or theme to explain their significance in the world of Zelda. The book’s goal is to bring these ideas together in an attempt to provide a general audience with a way to learn about the core concepts found in the games.

As anyone should expect from a book of this nature, many popular areas of discussion are explored in depth in order to explain all of their merits. Fans can enjoy topics such as Link’s role as the archetypal hero, his need to fight his inner demons, the effect the music has on the player, and many more. These points of focus are often repeated in the book, but their appearances in multiple essays written by various authors prove their significance in the stories. Though the material discussed may at times seem apparent to anyone who has played the games, the importance of these themes validates any repetition or exploration of simpler subjects.

For example, in the first essay of the book, “Embodying the Virtual Hero,” the author, Jonathan Erickson, Ph.D., draws comparisons between the player’s connection with Link to renowned psychiatrist Carl Jung’s theories on projection and the collective unconsciousness. In the later essay, “The Nocturne of (Personal) Shadow” by Louise Grann, Jung’s research on the inner self is used again, but this time to explain how certain challenges and enemies in the games can be seen as metaphors for the personal growth of characters.

Each essay is informative about and relevant to their selected topics. Certain themes discussed, in addition to ones previously mentioned, are the Hero’s Journey, self-identification, and grief. Each is examined thoroughly and with attention to detail.

This is where The Psychology of Zelda shines. There is no ambiguity and no flimsy attempts to validate a theory. The authors regularly point to moments in various games that support their arguments.

In the essay “It’s Dangerous to Go Alone,” Dr. Steve Kuniak provides an extensive chart that examines various plot points in every game in the series and then links them to the core components of the Hero’s Journey. As Kuniak puts it, the Hero’s Journey “describes a common template among stories in which an often-unassuming child journeys through a series of challenging and life-altering events and discovers themselves to be a great hero.” Throughout his paper, Kuniak examines each aspect of the Hero’s Journey and demonstrates how they are implemented in the Zelda series.

The transformation from child to hero is of incredible importance to the series.

The attention to detail also brings the added benefit of highlighting how impressive the narratives of most Zelda games are. The research in each segment shows the care the game developers took to implement classical, evocative, emotional, and popular story elements into each tale. All of Link’s escapades have meaning and weight behind them. The stories are not just shallow additions meant to solely to keep the game moving, and every player can see that.

These examinations are highly informative, but they also help the readers understand and enjoy the games in new ways. Ultimately, a greater understanding, appreciation, and love for the Legend of Zelda series are some of the preferable and likely outcomes from examing this kind of research.

There is something to be said about learning from experts. My personal favorite essay is “Unmasking Grief” by Larisa A. Garski, F. Cary Shepard, and Emory S. Daniel. All of the authors are professionals in fields relating to grief or trauma, and their work does an excellent job to shed light on the issues of loss as they appear in Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask.

The themes of grief and loss are weaved throughout Majora’s Mask’s narrative, with multiple characters shown going through different stages of the Kübler-Ross model.

They delve deep into the game’s story and content to explain how characters, locations, and events reflect the Kübler-Ross Model, also known as the five stages of grief. The theme of grief as they appear in Majora’s Mask is a common area of discussion for Zelda fans, but the authors’ more in-depth knowledge of the model allows for a greater and more precise understanding of how the model functions in the game. For example, they discuss how Clock Town and its residents initially represent the denial step and also how the stages of grief do not always manifest in the same order or level of severity for every person.

“Unmasking Grief” is not about speculation. One of the most common areas of focus for fans is the theory that Link is dead in Majora’s Mask and that the subsequent story is just a manifestation of restless soul’s grieving. This essay stays to what is observable and avoids speculation. It merely explains the parallels, which is the best way to defend any theory.

The only real shortcoming of The Psychology of Zelda is how straightforward and introductory the topics of some articles tend to be. Anyone with a greater understanding of psychology or who is well-versed in the meaning behind the stories in the games might not gain much from reading the book. The main goal of essays and their authors is to make the core connections between the real world and Zelda apparent, and it does a good job of that, but it might all seem too familiar to a more knowledgeable reader.

The only real shortcoming of the book is how straightforward and introductory the topics tend to be. It might seem too familiar to a more knowledgeable reader.

The Psychology of Zelda is a beneficial collection of expert analyses and something fans of Zelda have needed, even if they didn’t know it. While it’s not a masterwork that will reinvent how people look at the series, it does an excellent job demonstrating how the Legend of Zelda games offer an incredible amount of depth and heart in their stories.

The book’s dedication is to fans as well as to those who are skeptical of the series’ influence, making The Psychology of Zelda‘s message and goals clear to see. It offers much of what people love about the games in a useful package, and for that, it is worth a read.

Zac Pricener
Just your typical Nintendo and Legend of Zelda fanatic.